Last week I had the absolute pleasure of being a counselor at Camp Cromberg for Junior High Camp. I never went to Cromberg as a camper, and I had never counseled Junior High Camp before, so I went into camp not knowing at all what to expect. I was actually quite worried to be counseling Junior High age kids because Junior High was probably the worst two years of my life, and my experience with Junior High age kids had not been overwhelmingly positive. So, I went into Cromberg with the same mindset I try to go into all situations with: minimal expectations with maximum energy and a positive attitude.
The drive up to Cromberg was excruciatingly long, especially with stops to pick up other counselors and campers along the way. The drive was beautiful, and it was great to see the Sierra Nevadas and breathe the mountain air I grew up in again after months of being away at college and Happy Valley.
We were the first to arrive, and we had the entire campground to ourselves for the first night. After months of living in a more urban environment, I had forgotten what it was like when it was actually dark outside and what the stars looked like when there aren’t cities around to spoil their brilliance. It was beautiful. As good as the iPhone camera gets, it is still absurdly bad at taking pictures of the brilliance that is a clear night sky in the mountains, so I will spare you my attempts at night time iPhone photography.
The next day dawned and after spending way too much time, money, and effort into decorating the joint cabin I shared with Sarah with dollar tree decorations fixed to the walls and ceiling with dollar tree brand duct tape (all of which ended up on the floor within two days), the campers began to arrive.
I was immediately greeted by campers that I knew from counseling at Children’s Camp, including campers that I had in my cabin multiple times. I was immediately more comfortable. Instead of seeing faceless, crazy, sassy Junior High aged children full of preteen angst, I now saw Lexi, who was the loud but super sweet girl who was in my cabin my first year as a counselor in training (CIT), and Ruth who gives the tightest hugs, and Diana who has grown, I swear, a foot since the last time I saw her, and Alex who adorably sang “Problem” by Iggy Azalea in a Children’s Camp talent show, and Anthony who pretends to be a twerp but is actually an awesome kid.
Wednesday, disaster struck. Sarah got a migraine and retreated to her bed for the night. That left me with 10 campers solely under my charge and Sarah’s duties for the Wacky Wednesday birthday themed Pajama Party.
As the night drew to a close, I was running late back to my cabin to make sure the campers were getting ready for bed and starting their devotions. The closer I got to the cabin, the more worried I became. All of the cabins I passed were loud and rowdy, and all I could think of was how loud 10 unsupervised preteen girls with a sugar high must be and poor Sarah in the cabin with a migraine and a queasy stomach. But as I opened the door, I was shocked to find the lights out and the girls in bed silent as they respected Sarah’s health. I was blown away. We did devotions at a whisper level with both of the cabins together and went to bed.
As the week drew to a close I continued to be blown away by the kindness of the campers and the (mostly) loving silliness with which they treated each other and the staff. They showed more maturity and love than I ever thought they could, and being able to be there with them, listen to them, joke with them, be silly with them, and be someone to lean on was a truly life changing experience that I did not see coming.
One of the campers that I grew especially close with reminded me so much of my younger sister from when she was in Junior High that I was taken aback many times by the familiarity of her mannerisms and energy. Being able to bond with her and treat her with love and patience as others became annoyed by her loud, sassy, competitive nature made me feel like I was getting a second shot at being a good, supportive older sister. Because, while my sister and I are very close now and have a wonderful relationship, I did not have the patience and maturity to be the sister she needed me to be when she was in Junior High and I was in High School.
There is an affirmation ceremony that takes place under the stars on the top of Inspiration Point on the last night of camp. The staff space themselves out along the path up to Inspiration Point and light the way for the campers who have to hike up in the dark. The campers can choose to stop and say hi to the staff and give a hug on their way up if they want to. I was so touched by the campers who gave me a tearful hug and asked if I was going to be back the next year. And it was incredibly moving when the camper that reminded me of my sister threw her arms around me and sobbed that she “didn’t want me to go.” It felt so good to be able to be a supportive person in those campers’ lives who had possibly never experienced what it was like to have an authority figure be able to balance be “in charge” of them and also have fun with them and listen to them.
As each camper hiked up, I realized that I would miss every single one of them at the end of camp. While I had seen the majority of them at yearly intervals for the last four years and have watched them grow, mature, and blossom into young adults, I also grew up with them. I have grown up and changed quite a bit since I was a first time Children’s Camp CIT at the age of 16. Being a counselor at Junior High Camp was a well-timed reminder that comfort zones are meant to be leaped out of and demolished if personal growth is to be achieved, and I feel so blessed to have been able to counsel such a wonderful group of campers.